I've Got A Mind To Ramble
By Keith S. Clements

So What's New

The summer season is upon us, including lots of blues festivals and concerts. So here is a brief rundown.

Stevie Ray's will have a fundraiser for the Public Radio Partnership on Sunday, July 22. Music will start at 6 p.m. with the Saints, followed by the Mudcats at 7:30 p.m.. Sue O'Neil will be back singing with the band, with Lamont Gillespie blowing his harp, which will make this occasion special. The Greg Foresman Band will come on at 9:30 p.m. and play until 11. There will be barbecue in the VooDoo Gardens. The cover will be just $6.

Another fundraiser for the Leukemia Society is scheduled on September 23 at Churchill's, which will start at 2 p.m. and feature all Louisville bands.

Fortunately, the Two Rivers Festival at Carrollton will not be on the same date as the Six Flags Festival, as in years past. Carrolton will be September 7 & 8 and will have Sherman Robinson as the headliner on Saturday. You may remember Sherman's dynamic performance at the 1998 Louisville Blues Festival in Theater Square. The following weekend, September 15 and 16, the Six Flags Festival will feature Robinson again, along with Marcia Ball on Saturday. On Sunday, Carey Bell and Stevie Ray Vaughan's backup band, Double Trouble, will headline the show. Other regional acts, including Jim Diamond & the Groove Syndicate and Lamont Gillespie and the 100 Proof Blues band, will fill out these two days. There will also be a slot for the winner of the KBS 2001 Unsigned Blues Talent Competition. To find out who that will be, the Kentuckiana Blues Society is busy making plans to have the competition at Stevie Ray's on Sunday, August 19. The prize money has been increased from $250 to $500, with the opportunity to be on the "Saturday Night Blues party" with Scott Mullins as an added incentive. The `big carrot' is a slot at the 2002 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Last year's KBS winner, Sofa King Deluxe, got some great exposure and now plays regularly at Stevie Ray's. This year, the competition will be limited to ten bands so it can start at 4:30 p.m. and be over by 10 p.m.

Entries must be in by the end of July so they can be previewed. A blind draw will be done in advance so sufficient promotion of the bands and the order of their appearance can be done. We will have five distinguished judges representing various aspects of the blues genre. Time is already short for receiving entries, so check the KBS website at www.aye.net/~kbsblues or call Box Cox at 893-0173 for an application.

Sacred Steel

There is an obscure style of gospel music that is quickly becoming better known. It originated from the House of God, which includes the Keith Dominion and Jewel Dominion Holiness Pentecostal Churches. Most of these African-American churches are based in Florida. What makes this sacred music so distinctive is the use of the electric steel guitar. It is the magic of the steel bar that can sustain the notes, change the pitch and achieve the dramatic vibrato that makes this sound so powerful. This tradition goes back to the 1930s, when first the lap steel, then the pedal steel guitar became an integral part of the services for these two sects. Willie Eason was the first musician to play them in church, learning from his older brother Thurmond. Willie combined his brother's Hawaiian technique, which was popular at the time, with the African-American rhythmic and vocal-like style. He became known as "Little Willie and His Talking Guitar" along the East Coast during the '40s and '50s. He resisted the temptation to play R&B and now lives in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he still performs on occasion.

Thurmond was a direct influence on Henry Nelson and Lorenzo Harrison, who become the most influential steel guitarists in the Keith Dominion and Jewel Dominion churches. Now a third generation of musicians has come up, including Sonny Treadway, Aubrey Ghent and the Campbell Brothers, Chuck, Phil, Carl and Darick. The Campbell Brothers have played the New Orleans Jazz & Blues Festival and the Berlin Jazz Festival. Chuck has also had a cameo appearance in the movie "Kingdom Come."

Arhoolie records has done an outstanding job in releasing five CDs on the musicians I've mentioned, plus two anthologies, which give a tantalizing historical and contemporary cross-section of this vibrant music. All the liner notes say "File under: Gospel, Blues and Folk" and I wouldn't hesitate to add any one of these records to my blues collection alongside blues steel guitarists Hop Wilson and Sonny Rhodes.

The latest release has the mundane title "Sacred Steel Convention - Train Don't Leave Me," but it will blow your hymn book right out of your hands. This is no dreamy Santo and Johnny stuff but is some of the most original high-energy music you will ever hear. The First Annual Convention was held in the spring of 2000 in Florida. There were House of God guitarists participating from all over the country. These musicians weren't hampered by the constraints of a church service, which usually lasts three hours. They got to stretch out on songs like Aubrey Ghent's incredible "Train Don't Leave Me," which extends for twelve minutes.

The second convention was held this spring and twice as many guitarists were there. It showcased a new breed of young musicians from both Dominions. It was captured on audio and will be released later this year. If you have to see it to believe it, Arhoolie also has a video which documents how this sacred music got started in the church. I just wish there was a Dominion church here in Louisville, because I'm ready to believe.